A friend of mine reached out to me to try to spread awareness about a new scam that is currently making the rounds. Well, it may not be new, but this is the first I have heard of it. He works at a popular retail drugstore chain and says they catch at least three a week and save folks from being scammed out of their hard-earned money. Who knows how many they aren't able to catch? So frustrating!

You may think "How can someone fall for something like that?" but it's more common than you would think. Especially among older demographics. Here is some information about how the scam works including ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Photo by Claire Abdo on Unsplash
Photo by Claire Abdo on Unsplash
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How Do These Scammers Contact You?

Usually, via phone call, there are several different ways scammers will try to convince you they are legitimate and you should do what they ask of you. The pressure of whatever consequence they threaten you with will convince you to act urgently. Don't fall for it!

1. They claim to be a utility company that hasn't received payment from you and they will threaten to shut off whatever service they provide. No one wants to lose their electricity in this weather!

2. They will say they are with the government or IRS needing to collect taxes or a fine.

3. You receive a call saying "You've won a prize!" with the stipulation that you pay a fee to send it to you. Ask yourself, did you even enter a contest?

4. Someone calls you claiming to be a friend of a friend who is in trouble and they need you to send them money ASAP, just don't tell anyone! It's best to hang up and call that friend to see what is going on. I bet you'll find that story to be false.

5. Cruelly, it may come from an individual met through online dating. I saw a documentary about this once and it was wild the amount of money this one man was able to steal from women. Just by playing with their emotions. How mean!

There are some other scenarios as well that I have found. The main thing to remember is that no real business or service will ask you to purchase a gift card to pay them.

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash
Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash
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What do they ask you to do?

They will tell you that they can only accept payment via gift card. This is because gift cards are similar to cash in that once they are spent, the money is gone. There are also fewer protections for the buyer.

If anyone ever tells you they can only receive gift cards as payment, that is a scam. They will present one of the above situations as urgent so that you feel you don't have time to waste and may not think deeper into the fact that the story doesn't make sense.

The scammer will tell you what kind of gift card to get whether it be a Target, iTunes, eBay, or Google Play. They may also insist on being on the phone with you while you go to the store. Places like Walgreens or CVS are often recommended as the ideal place to purchase. Once the card is purchased, they will ask you to tell them the card number and PIN. With this information, the scammer can use the money anywhere online and you will be out whatever amount you loaded onto the card.

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash
Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash
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What to do if you are Targeted by a Scammer

If any of the above happens to you, hopefully, you will notice before you purchase the card and can hang up the phone. You can report this to the Federal Trade Commission or your state attorney general.

If you find yourself having been a victim of this scam, report it to the police and contact whatever business the card is with. With this becoming a common problem, various companies have ways to recover your money if they are able to track the perpetrator.

Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash
Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash
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How to Help Others

Ideally, with this information, you can avoid this scam altogether! If you know anyone who may be susceptible to this gift card scam, please share this information with them. If you work at any major retailer that sells gift cards, be on the lookout for anyone who might be purchasing an odd amount. I honestly don't think it would be a bad idea to nonchalantly ask an innocent question like "Is someone having a birthday?" Get that conversation started and maybe you can help save someone from losing their money.

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